Choosing The Right Diapers: Cloth Vs. Disposable

September 25, 2023

Are you unsure whether to choose cloth or disposable diapers for your baby? Look no further as we explore the pros and cons of each option in order to help you make an informed decision. From cost-effectiveness and environmental impact to ease of use and baby’s comfort, we’ll cover all the important factors to consider when it comes to choosing the right diapers for your little one.


Initial Purchase Price

When it comes to cost, there are a few factors to consider when comparing cloth diapers and disposable diapers. The initial purchase price of cloth diapers is generally higher than that of disposable diapers. Cloth diapers require an upfront investment as you’ll need to purchase a set of diapers, covers, and inserts or prefolds. On the other hand, disposable diapers are readily available in stores, and you can buy them as you need them.

Cost over Time

Although cloth diapers may have a higher initial purchase price, they can save you money in the long run. Once you have invested in a set of cloth diapers, you can reuse them for multiple children, reducing your diapering costs significantly. Additionally, cloth diapers can be less expensive if you consider the cost over time. Disposable diapers are an ongoing expense, and the costs can add up quickly, especially if you have multiple children or use them for extended periods.

Additional Costs

When considering the total cost of diapering, it’s important to factor in additional costs. Cloth diapers require additional accessories such as diaper pail liners, and depending on your water and energy usage, washing cloth diapers may also add to your utility bills. Disposable diapers, on the other hand, may require additional purchases such as diaper rash creams and wipes. It’s essential to consider these additional costs when evaluating the overall cost of each diapering option.

Environmental Impact

Production Process

The production process of both cloth diapers and disposable diapers has varying environmental impacts. Cloth diapers, being reusable, decrease the demand for materials and manufacturing required to produce disposable diapers. However, cloth diapers do require resources such as water and energy for washing and drying. On the other hand, disposable diapers have a significant environmental impact during their production. They require raw materials like wood pulp, plastics, and petroleum-based products.

Waste Generation

Waste generation is a critical aspect to consider when discussing the environmental impact of diapers. With cloth diapers, waste generation primarily occurs during the washing process when water is used to remove waste. Disposable diapers, however, contribute to landfill waste as they are not recyclable or biodegradable. The National Association of Diaper Services estimates that disposable diapers can take up to 500 years to decompose in landfills.

Carbon Footprint

The carbon footprint of cloth diapers and disposable diapers also differs. Cloth diapers have a lower carbon footprint because their production process consumes less energy and resources than disposable diapers. Additionally, cloth diapers reduce the carbon footprint related to waste management as they produce significantly less landfill waste. Disposable diapers, with their extensive production and landfilled waste, have a higher carbon footprint.

Health and Comfort

Chemical Exposure

When it comes to chemical exposure, cloth diapers generally have an advantage. Disposable diapers often contain chemicals such as fragrances, dyes, and absorbent gels, which may cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some babies. Cloth diapers are made from natural fibers and have fewer chemicals in their composition, reducing the risk of exposure to potential irritants.


Cloth diapers are often praised for their breathability. The natural fibers used in cloth diapers allow for better air circulation, preventing excessive heat and moisture buildup, which can lead to diaper rash. Disposable diapers, with their plastic-like materials, may not provide the same level of breathability, increasing the likelihood of diaper rash or discomfort.

Irritation and Rashes

Both cloth diapers and disposable diapers can lead to diaper rash if not changed frequently or if the baby’s skin is sensitive. However, cloth diapers are more breathable, and the absence of certain chemicals can help reduce the occurrence of rashes. Additionally, cloth diapers allow for better air circulation, which can aid in healing and preventing diaper rash. Disposable diapers, on the other hand, may require more frequent changes to prevent moisture buildup and reduce the risk of rashes.


Ease of Use

When it comes to ease of use, disposable diapers generally have an advantage. They are readily available in stores, and there is no need for washing or drying. Disposable diapers are convenient for parents who may have limited time or access to laundry facilities. Cloth diapers, although they require more effort in terms of washing and drying, can also be convenient when well-organized with a proper diapering routine.

Changing Frequency

Changing frequency is another aspect to consider when evaluating convenience. Disposable diapers, known for their absorbency, can offer longer periods between changes, reducing the number of diaper changes needed throughout the day. Cloth diapers may require more frequent changes to prevent leaks, especially if the baby is a heavy wetter. This may add to the time and effort needed for diaper changes, but it can also be an opportunity for more frequent bonding moments with your baby.


Traveling can present unique challenges when it comes to diapering. Disposable diapers are often seen as more convenient during travel as they can be easily disposed of, reducing the need to carry soiled diapers with you. However, with proper planning and organization, cloth diapers can be used while traveling. Many parents find success in using a combination of cloth and disposable diapers during trips to balance convenience and sustainability.


Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers have evolved over time to offer better absorbency options. Modern cloth diapers often come with absorbent inserts or prefolds made from materials like bamboo or microfiber. These materials have excellent absorbency properties and can keep your baby dry for a significant amount of time. However, the absorbency of cloth diapers can vary depending on the type of fabric used and the diaper style or brand.

Disposable Diapers

Disposable diapers are widely recognized for their excellent absorbency. They are engineered with absorbent gels that can quickly lock away moisture, keeping your baby’s skin dry for extended periods. The absorbency of disposable diapers is a key factor for many parents, especially overnight or when on the go. However, it’s important to note that using overly absorbent diapers for prolonged periods can also make it challenging to gauge when your baby needs a diaper change.


Fit and Elasticity

Choosing the right diaper size is crucial for preventing leaks. Both cloth diapers and disposable diapers come in various sizes to accommodate your baby’s growth. Cloth diapers often offer adjustable features such as snaps or hook-and-loop closures, allowing for a customizable fit. Disposable diapers also come with elasticized protection barriers to ensure a snug fit around the legs and waist, reducing the risk of leaks.

Absorption Capacity

The absorption capacity of a diaper plays a significant role in minimizing leaks. In this aspect, disposable diapers generally have an advantage. The advanced materials and absorbent gels used in disposable diapers can hold large amounts of liquid, reducing the likelihood of leaks even during prolonged periods between changes. However, choosing the correct size and changing cloth diapers frequently can also help reduce leakage.

Retention Design

The retention design of both cloth diapers and disposable diapers contributes to leak prevention. Cloth diapers often include features like double gussets or elastic leg casings that provide a secure fit and help contain messes. Disposable diapers are designed with absorbent cores that distribute moisture evenly throughout the diaper, reducing the risk of leaks. The retention design is an important consideration for parents seeking a leak-free diapering experience.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Washing Cloth Diapers

Proper cleaning and maintenance are essential for cloth diapers to ensure their longevity and hygienic use. Cloth diapers should be rinsed or soaked in water immediately after use to prevent stains and odors from setting in. They can then be laundered using a suitable washing routine that includes pre-washing, main washing, and thorough drying. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use a detergent that is safe for cloth diapers to maintain their absorbency and effectiveness.

Storing and Disposing of Disposable Diapers

Storing and disposing of disposable diapers is relatively straightforward. Used disposable diapers can be rolled up and secured with the tabs before placing them in a diaper pail or trash bag. It’s important to handle disposable diapers with care, especially if they contain any solid waste. Proper disposal methods should be followed to prevent contamination and maintain cleanliness.

Diaper Cream and Stain Removal

Both cloth diapers and disposable diapers may require the use of diaper creams to prevent diaper rash or aid in healing. However, cloth diapers may be more prone to staining when using certain diaper creams. It’s important to use diaper creams that are safe for cloth diapers and follow proper techniques for stain removal to maintain the fabric’s quality and appearance. Disposable diapers, on the other hand, allow for easier application of diaper creams without the risk of staining.

Hypoallergenic Properties

Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers are often preferred for their hypoallergenic properties. They are made from natural fibers that are less likely to irritate a baby’s sensitive skin. Cloth diapers have a lower risk of causing allergic reactions or skin irritation since they contain fewer chemicals and additives compared to disposable diapers. This can be particularly beneficial for babies with sensitive skin or those prone to allergies.

Disposable Diapers

Disposable diapers, while convenient, may pose a higher risk of skin irritation and allergies. They often contain fragrances, dyes, and other chemicals that can potentially cause allergic reactions. If your baby has sensitive skin or is prone to allergies, it’s important to select hypoallergenic disposable diapers that are free from known irritants. It’s always advisable to check the product labels and consult with a pediatrician if you have any concerns.

Cuteness and Fashion

Cloth Diapers

One aspect of cloth diapering that often brings joy to parents is the wide variety of cute and fashionable designs available. Cloth diapers come in a vast array of patterns, colors, and prints, allowing parents to have fun and express their personal style through their baby’s diaper choices. Cloth diapers can be a fashion statement while also being functional and eco-friendly.

Disposable Diapers

Disposable diapers also offer a variety of designs, although they may have fewer options compared to cloth diapers. Many disposable diaper brands have cute characters or designs printed on the diapers, adding a touch of fun to diapering. While not as extensive as the cloth diaper market, disposable diapers can still bring some cuteness and style to your baby’s everyday life.

Cultural and Social Factors


Cultural and social factors may influence the acceptability of different diapering options in various communities. In some cultures, cloth diapers have been the traditional choice passed down through generations, while in others, disposable diapers have become the norm. The choice between cloth and disposable diapers can be influenced by factors such as cultural practices, family traditions, or societal norms. It’s essential to consider these factors and find a diapering option that aligns with your family’s beliefs and values.

Trends and Styles

Diapering trends and styles can also influence the choice between cloth and disposable diapers. With the rise of social media and the online parenting community, cloth diapering has gained popularity and become a trend among some parents. Cloth diapering groups and communities offer support, advice, and a sense of belonging for parents who choose this diapering method. Awareness of trends and styles can help parents make informed decisions and find support within their chosen diapering community.

In conclusion, choosing the right diapers for your baby involves evaluating different factors such as cost, environmental impact, health and comfort, convenience, absorbency, leakage prevention, cleaning and maintenance, hypoallergenic properties, cuteness and fashion, and cultural and social factors. Each option, whether cloth or disposable diapers, has its advantages and considerations. By weighing these factors and prioritizing what matters most to you and your family, you can make an informed decision that meets your baby’s needs and fits your lifestyle. Remember, every baby is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. The key is finding the perfect balance between functionality, sustainability, and personal preferences. Happy diapering!

Sandra McNeil, PhD.
Sandra McNeil, PhD.

Sandra has over 13 years of experience as a child psychologist, both as a practitioner and researcher. She has a Bachelor's in child psychology from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and then she did her master's in Psychology in Education (focused on Children & Families) at Columbia University, NY. She has been writing for health and child-related publications for over 5 years now.

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